9th November 1997


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Ranil calls for needs-based Devolution

Opposition UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe has strongly reiterated his party’s
commitment to devolution of power, but insisted again that the 13th Amendment is
the best foundation. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr. Wickremesinghe said
his party would also support proposals to give more powers to the provinces, but it
must be based on the specific needs of each area. Mr. Wickremesinghe called on
President Kumaratunga to stop blaming or attacking the UNP and instead make their
bi-partisan agreement operative, while pursuing the efforts to find a political solution
mainly through the Select Committee. Excerpts:
By Roshan Peiris

Q: You have proposed the revival of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987. Could you elaborate on this in the context of the Devolution Package?

A: The Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment settled the question of the unit of devolution. The existing provinces were accepted as the units of devolution. The right of the provinces to merge, provided the people of each province agreed, was also incorporated. Furthermore provision was made for the temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Today the 13th Amendment has gained widespread acceptance. In addition, the Mangala Moonesinghe Committee also made further recommendations on the 13th Amendment. During my visit to India we made clear that we accept the unit of devolution as laid down in the Indo-Lanka Accord and in the 13th Amendment. we stated that the UNP does not agree with the proposals of the Government to re-demarcate the existing provinces. I expressed the view that we should build as what has been already accepted in the 13th Amendment, the Indo- Lanka Accord, the Mangala Moonesinghe Report in addition to the proposals in the present package that are accepted by all parties. This would reduce the area of controversy.

Q: Minister S. Thondaman has stated that ‘there is a serious flaw in the 13th Amendment’ not recognising the distinctive features of the North East province. Aren’t you in agreement with him when you spoke of symmetrical and asymmetrical devolution ? Or what had you in mind?

A: The Mangala Moonesinghe Committee recommended further devolution of powers to the Provincial Councils. This is also one of the objectives of the Select Committee. To arrive at a political solution it is necessary to devolve additional powers.

But do we have to devolve such extensive powers to the other provinces?

The question arises whether people in the other provinces want such extensive powers devolved to their Provincial Councils. This is why I spoke of a needs based devolution. We must first determine the maximum powers to be devolved to each province in accordance with the need. A needs based devolution system has been proposed in Britain by the Tony Blair Government. One system of devolution for Scotland, another system of devolution for Wales and limited or no devolution in England. There is also a needs based devolution system in Spain. I do not agree with the view which says that a needs based devolution leads to the break up of the country. The proposed devolution in Britain will not lead to the break up of Britain . The proposals for devolution in Spain has not led to the break up of Spain - because it is power devolved by Parliament to the different provinces in accordance with identified needs. The union of regions pre supposes the right to dissolve. This is why the Minister added the term indisoluable, hoping for the best - I don’t think it is an effective safeguard. Minister Thondaman has also spoken of asymmetrical devolution. I have not discussed the matter with him, so I do not know what exactly he means.

Q: By not supporting the Devolution Package in its present form don’t you think you will alienate the Tamil political parties?

A: The UNP gains its support from the Tamil speaking as well as the Sinhala people. We have not lost. The Tamil political parties have serious reservations regarding the proposals on devolution. These have been mentioned in the progress report of the Select Committee placed before Parliament. Some of the Tamil political parties have also raised the question of talks with the LTTE. The Government has to make up its mind whether it is going to speak to the LTTE or not.

RanilRanil: back to the 13th Amendment

On my part when the Government approached me with regard to the exchange of letters between the President and myself not only did I agree but the UNP as a party immediately ratified the letters. Subsequently when the President summoned me for a briefing on the matter we discussed the whole question of the modalities for talks with the LTTE, when the Government makes up its mind whether it is going to talk to the LTTE or not. I outlined in my statement last Sunday, certain problems that have arisen now. Therefore, she has rejected bi-partisan co-operation. The Government has stated that it is ready to speak with the LTTE but no action has been taken. I am sorry to say that I feel that the Government is trying to take us for a ride.

Q: Generally you have had a reasonable approach to the Devolution Package though not accepting it in toto. But there are UNP Parliamentarians who don’t support it at all. Have you done something about this?

A: The UNP introduced devolution to the country. First we introduced the District Development Councils Act followed by the 13th Amendment which established the Provincial Councils. Therefore, devolution is a part of UNP policy. But there are different views as to the extent of devolution. Once a final decision is taken, everyone will abide by the decision.

Q: Some newspapers have said that the UNP is in disarry over the Devolution Package?

A: The UNP is the best organised political party in the country today. These is no disarray in the party.

Q: In your interview with The Hindu, you have spoken of establishing diplomatic ties with Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Aren’t you very much ahead of your times? Won’t you be arousing the emotional and psychological antagonism the Sinhala people have, that a merged North East will tie up politically with these southern states of India?

A: In the interview with the ‘Hindu’ I said we should strengthen our ties with Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karanataka. Historically Tamil Nadu, kerala, Karnataka, Andhra and Sri Lanka have had close relationships. We have been interacting with each other for thousands of years. We should develop cultural and economic ties. There is no question of establishing diplomatic ties with Tamil Nadu, kerala and Karanataka. These are not independent states. We already have a Deputy High Commissioner in Tamil Nadu. We could consider having diplomatic offices in the other states. It is essential for us in Sri Lanka to have the best relations with these states. This is the reality. I do not think people of our country are emotional on this issue.

Q: You and the President are embroiled in a no-go attitude. You want a dialogue with the LTTE and the Government first. She wants a dialogue with the UNP first to come to an understanding on the Package. Your views?

A: I made my position clear in the statement issued by me last week. I informed the President that we were willing to discuss the modalities of bi-partisan co-operation when the Government takes a decision to talk to the LTTE. After all, the exchange of letters becomes operative only when such a decision is taken . The forum for discussing the Devolution Package is the Select Committee of Parliament. The LTTE has made it clear it whould only accept proposals presented by the Government and the UNP. The member of Parliament who visited Philippines made a recommendation that we should find a way by which the Exchange of Letters and the Select Committee process could be brought on to a single track. But this did not take place.

Q: Why haven’t you nominated three UNP members while she has nominated three PA members to first clarify issues before you both meet? The President says you agreed to appoint a committee of young lawyers and then did nothing.

A:I have never agreed to appoint a Committee of young lawyers. As I said earlier the forum for discussion of the Package is the Select Committee. It is necessary for me to discuss these issues with a group of PA lawyers.

Q: The President in her interview with The Hindu has categorically blamed the UNP for the ethnic problems. She says the entire North East war was precipitated in July ’83 in the pogrom against the Tamil people. Your observations?

A: Terrorism in the North started in 1976 with the murder of Alfred Durayappah the SLFP Mayor of Jaffna. There was a gradual escalation of terrorism from 1979. About 25 UNPer’s in Jaffna had been assassinated by July 1983. Some of the Tamil Groups had established bases in Tamil Nadu by that time. This was not known in July 1983. It was one of these groups that ambushed an army truck in Jaffna and precipitated the outburst of communal violence.

Why does the President spend time re-writing history. President Kumaratunga was a leading member of the SLFP for a long time and must accept responsibility for the following decision.

a) Repeal of Article 29 of the Constitution which provided safeguards for the minorities.

b) The non-inclusion of Tamil as a language of administration in the 1972 Constitution.

c) The standardisation of marks for entry to the Universities adversely affecting the students from Jaffna.

d) Opposing the introduction of Tamil as a National Language and a language of Administration in the 1978 Constitution .

e) Opposing the introduction of the District Development Council Act.

f) The subsequent boycott of the District Development Council Election.

President Kumaratunga is a late convert to the need to solve the ethnic problem. I must also say the late Vijaya Kumaratunga and the President supported the Indo-Lanka Accord wholeheartedly.

The UNP had not kept on making these allegations against the President. It does not help anyone . It will strain relationship and make it more difficult to arrive at a settlement. Unfortunately the President does not seem to think the same. A cheap political advantage is more important to her. After the Galadari bomb blast she refused to accept that the LTTE had any involvement in the attack. Instead she launched an attack on the UNP and me.

The Head of the Government must provide the leadership to settle this problem. If the Head of Government is unable to create a climate of mutual confidence with the Opposition,if the Head of Government would keep on blaming the Opposition, then she is incapable of bringing everyone together. This raises serious questions as to the President’s commitment to a bi-partisan approach.

Q: The President in an off hand mannar talks of doing away with the Constitution ‘foisted on the people’. She says the Constitution has undergone16 Amendments in 10 years and is now irrelevant. What are the views your party and you hold on this?

A: The UNP is of the view that the Constitution can be changed only in the manner prescribed “ To tear up a constitution is undemocratic and contrary to the Rule of Law. Every constitution prescribed a special procedure to change the constitution. A special majority in Parliament such as 2/3 of the total membership. Some constitutions also require the acceptance of the amendment by the people at a Referendum.

The system of electing members to Parliament does not in any way invalidate this procedure. Even countries having the PR system require a 2/3 majority in Parliament. Netherlands has a PR system and requires a 2/3 majority in Parliament for a Constitutional Amendment. Then fresh elections are called and the new Parliament must again pass the amendment with a 2/3 majority. You do not call this undemocratic.

The Government proposals on the constitution accepts the existing system of Proportional Representations. Then how can she complain against this system of elections? Furthermore, the 1978 Constitution was enacted according to the provisions of the 1972 Constitution. The President should adhere to her own policy statement made to Parliament on 6th February 1996. The President stated that the PA Government did not have a two third majority in Parliament. The new Constitution will be the result of a compromise with other parties in Parliament. Therefore it will stand the test of time.

Q: As you say the continuation of the war can be self-defeating and military strategy is not working. So what firm stand will you take towards a political settlement with the Government?

A: When the Select Committee held its last meeting on October 21 the Chairman G.L Peiris stated “the Select Committee meetings will continue to be held even though the Draft Consititution is presented to Parliament.” (Paragraph 4 of the minutes of the meeting). The Minister and the Government are now silent on the question. If the President is standing by her word she should support the continuance of the Select Committee, to work forward a political settlement.

Yala Chief says come, it’s safe

By Tharuka Dissanaike

The Yala National Park, Sri Lanka’s prime wildlife attraction, is roaring back to business after recent terrorist attacks forced a shutdown.

Last Sunday the park recorded its highest gate collection of some Rs. 90,000 with some 30 vehicles bringing local and foreign tourists, many of them French. The park was reopened on October 15 under the newly appointed Competent Authority Brigadier Shiran Ranatunga, who is confident that Yala is safe for visitors. He said troops had been spread out in the jungles but declined to give numbers for security reasons. Brigadier Ranatunga said some ‘terrorists’ had caused the trouble but he did not identify the group.

YalaThe tourists are back. Pix by Ranjith Perera

“All their escape routes have been cut off. We will capture this gang soon”, he vowed. With the presence of the Army in Yala, Sithulpahuwa and Kataragama, poaching also has been curbed , wild life officials said. But on Monday a guest house belonging to a prominent person in Kataragama was raided and some 200 kg of venison seized by wildlife officials. In Kataragama still tense after the attack on the bus depot, the number of pilgrims had come down and many vendors said they were out of business. But security officials said they were confident the situation would be back to normal soon.

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